The Shepheardes Calender by Edmund Spenser, Illustrations by John Nash, Printed by George W. Jones, Published by The Cresset Press in 1930

{Ed. Note: This fine article is from Books and Vines contributor Neil. The Shepheardes Calender  by Edmund Spenser, published by The Cresset Press in 1930, printed by George W. Jones and illustrated by John Nash with pochoir stencilling from the Curwen Press.}

Edmund Spenser (1552-1599) was an English poet best known for his epic allegorical poem The Fairie QueeneHe was born in London and attended the Merchant Taylors’ School and Pembroke College, Cambridge.  In 1580 Spenser served with the English forces during the Second Desmond Rebellion in Ireland.  He was awarded confiscated lands in County Cork – one of his acquaintances in Ireland was Sir Walter Raleigh. Following the presentation of The Fairie Queene in the company of Raleigh, Spenser hoped to gain a place at the Royal Court, but having antagonised the Queen’s personal secretary, this did not come to pass. In 1598 his castle at Kilcolman was destroyed during the Nine Years War and he returned to London where, it is said, he died almost penniless. Spenser was widely admired by other poets including Byron, Keats, Tennyson and Wordsworth. He is recognised as one of the premier craftsmen of early Modern English verse and one of England’s greatest poets.

The Shepheardes Calender was Edmund Spenser’s first major poetic work, published in 1579.  This pastoral poem is written using deliberately archaic spellings, to suggest a link to medieval literature (especially Chaucer).  The poem introduces a folk character called Colin Cloute and depicts his life as a shepherd across the twelve months of the year.

The Cresset Press

Dennis Cohen (1891-1970), who was an early member of the Double Cown Club, founded the Cresset Press in 1927.  Between 1927 and 1931 he published a number of fine books, paying scrupulous attention to matching fine hand-press work with enterprising illustrations and high production standards.  He commissioned some of the finest presses, printers and artists of the day to produce his books.  The best known production from the Cresset Press is Gulliver’s Travels illustrated by Rex Whistler.  Other notable books produced by Cresset were The Pilgrim’s Progress illustrated by Gertrude Hermes and Blair Hughes-Stanton, The Apocrypha illustrated by a number of the best wood engravers of the day and the folio of Bacon’s Essays printed at the Shakespeare Head Press containing, arguably, Bernard Newdigate‘s finest typography.  When the market for expensive books collapsed in the early thirties, the Cresset Press turned to general publishing.

George W. Jones

George W. Jones has been described by Henry Lewis Bullen as the “best all-round printer that Great Britain has ever produced” and by Bruce Rogers as that “Master of Master Printers”.  Born in Worcestershire in 1860 George Jones worked his way ‘up through the ranks’ until he operated his own press in London called ‘At the Sign of the Dolphin’, designed typefaces, was the ‘printing advisor’ to the Linotype Company, among many other activities.One of his greatest achievements was the creation of Granjon Old Face for Linotype in the 1920’s.  The provenance for this typeface was in the types used for books printed in Paris by Jacques Dupuys in 1554 and in 1582 by Jean Poupy.  It was a true derivative of Garamond and was praised immediately upon it’s release with Beatrice Warde writing “Granjon is a book face worthy to rank with Caslon for usefulness, with Centaur for beauty…….”.

John Nash

John Nash (the younger brother of the artist Paul Nash) was born in London in 1893.  He had no formal art training, but was encouraged by his brother to paint.  In 1913 he successfully exhibited some landscapes with his brother at a gallery in London and spent ther rest of his life as an accomplished artist.

Although he painted many beautiful landscapes, his most famous painting is Over the Top, now hanging in the Imperial War Museum in London.  From 1916 to 1918 Nash fought in World War I in the Artists Rifles and this painting is an image of the attack during which the 1st Battalion Artists Rifles left their trenches and pushed towards Marcoing near Cambrai – of the eighty men, sixty-eight were killed or wounded during the first few minutes.  Nash was one of the twelve spared that day and painted the picture three months later.

John Nash was also an accomplished printmaker and book illustrator.  He was a founding member of the Society of Wood Engravers in 1920 and produced woodcuts and engravings, both as ‘stand-alone’ prints, and as illustrations for books such as: Jonathan Swift’s Directions to Servants for the Golden Cockerel Press in 1925 and Edmund Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calender shown here.

About the Edition

  • Published by The Cresset Press, London – 1930
  • 334mm X 211mm, 160 pages
  • Printed in 16pt Linotype Granjon Old Face (used in this book for the first time) with the preliminary pages and glossaries in 14pt
  • The book was printed ‘At the Sign of the Dolphin’ by George W. Jones who designed the typeface
  • The paper is Barcham Green hand-made
  • The illustrations are by John Nash and have been coloured in the stencil process by The Curwen Press
  • Bound in quarter vellum with cream silk boards (with a dust-wrapper and cardboard slipcase)
  • 350 copies (plus 3 on vellum) – this copy is number 229


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The Shepheardes Calendar, The Cresset Press, Spine and Cover
The Shepheardes Calendar, The Cresset Press, Front Cover
The Shepheardes Calendar, The Cresset Press, Half-Title
The Shepheardes Calendar, The Cresset Press, Title Page
The Shepheardes Calendar, The Cresset Press, Sample Text #1
The Shepheardes Calendar, The Cresset Press, Sample Text #2
The Shepheardes Calendar, The Cresset Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
The Shepheardes Calendar, The Cresset Press, Sample Text #3
The Shepheardes Calendar, The Cresset Press, Sample Text #4
The Shepheardes Calendar, The Cresset Press, Sample Text #5
The Shepheardes Calendar, The Cresset Press, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
The Shepheardes Calendar, The Cresset Press, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
The Shepheardes Calendar, The Cresset Press, Sample Illustration #4 with Text
The Shepheardes Calendar, The Cresset Press, Colophon
The Shepheardes Calendar, The Cresset Press, Limitation

2 thoughts on “The Shepheardes Calender by Edmund Spenser, Illustrations by John Nash, Printed by George W. Jones, Published by The Cresset Press in 1930

  1. Ho hum. Another beautiful book from Celtic (neil)’s formidable library. As with several of Celtic’s articles for Books and Vines this is an edition I was not previously familiar with.

    I strongly suspect that of all the great British literary figures over the past seven hundred years Edmund Spenser’s journey across the Atlantic has been the most problematic, rivaled only (perhaps) by William Langland and The Vision of Piers Plowman. Of the great British poets he may well be the least read in the States, both amongst avid readers and at the university level, excluding English literature majors and specialists. Combine the Faerie Queene’s archaic, unfamiliar language with a very long work, a convoluted plot, and innumerable characters and you have the makings of a classic work that is destined never to be read. For many, myself included, it falls under the broad general heading of “more work than it is worth”.

    If ever a great work begged for a modern translation it is The Faerie Queene. For purists who claim that this totally neuters Spenser’s unique poetic voice and defeats the purpose of reading this great poem, I would refer them to the superb modern translations of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (Nevill Coghill and David Wright), Beowulf (Seamus Heaney) and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (W.S. Merwin and Simon Armitage). Several of these have become classics in their own right and whatever is lost in the author’s original language is more than compensated by the improved understanding and accessibility brought to these works.

    That said, I found reading the text pages of The Shephearde’s Calendar that Neil photographed piqued my interest, so much so that i downloaded and printed the first two chapters from online sites that have reprinted this work in its entirety. Perhaps it is the more direct plot, perhaps it is knowing that this is a shorter work with a finite, more visible endpoint, but wading through Spenser’s archaic language this time proved less onerous than I had initially thought it would be. Strangely, I found reading Spenser not dissimilar to reading James Joyce’s Ulysses for the first time (or the second time, or the third time, or…..). If one accepts that he/she will not understand every word or phrase, glosses over them, and simply immerses oneself in the beauty of the poetry and language, letting the words and sentences wash over you and roll about in one’s brain, it becomes a far more entertaining read than I had ever imagined. Clearly, I will have to give this work another go, hopefully in this splendid Cresset Press edition.

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